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I Am Also Your Son

By Rafael do Valle

The manner one perceives the world can be understood by examining how they express themselves in literature. This event is especially seen in extreme cases such as the one of Horacio Quiroga, one of Latin America’s most renowned writers, who had his life marked by a cascade of traumatic events. He witnessed his stepfather’s gruesome suicide while he was still very young, and unfortunately, this would not be the last time he would encounter violent death up close. In his short story “El Hijo” it is possible to observe remnants of Quiroga’s personal life through the way he expresses himself, as he reflects on his stories and characters. The “hijo,” the son in the story, died in a barbaric way by falling into barbed wire and accidentally shooting himself. Concordantly my past traumas are also reflected in my personality, and although this takes place in a less intense way than in Horacio Quiroga, the process of expressing past experiences in subtle ways remains conserved. During my junior year in high school my conservative family found out I was gay, this event was so traumatic to me that in present day I am still frightened to announce whom I love in the presence of others who exhibit beliefs akin to those of my parents. In Quiroga’s story, the son and father have a trusting but cold relationship, thus the son’s violent and grim death portrays the author’s own experiences with his stepfather. Likewise, the way I often think and act is a reflection of my past experiences. The reason why the story “El Hijo” is so striking to me is because it specifically portrays the impact of trauma during a set period, childhood, as well as demonstrates how the subconscious expresses residual scars in unusual ways, such as a fictional story.

My name is Rafael, I am 21 years old and I am the son of Brazilian parents who originated from an extremely traditional family. They have raised me based on their views on Catholic teachings; such as going to church frequently, fasting on holy days, and respecting the wishes of the parents above all else. Before the catastrophic event of them getting acquainted with my reality, I was like the glue that held my entire family together. Always talkative like my mother, but intellectual like my father. I valued our relationship more than the vast majority of men my age, one of laughter, love, but nothing was more valuable than our trust, this all being similar to the relationship of the father and son in Quiroga’s story. My parents’ new discovery about my true self should not have been impactful since, after all, I was still their loving son, but in their perspective, I became the black sheep of the family. Previously we used to spend every weekend together: eating, traveling, shopping, and we were always very happy. I didn’t literally die like the son in the story who laid on the cold ground, but the angel Rafael, the perfect son, had died forever in the heart of my parents. Oddly enough, to this day my mother has dreams and believes I am still who they thought I was, similar to how the father hallucinated seeing his son alive.

In Quiroga’s story, the father was stone cold, but with a heart as pure as gold. He also was visually impaired, had stomach issues, and appeared to be unhealthy. The son was somewhat odd, full of energy, having flawless skin since he was still very young and pure, but on the inside he was an adult. The son was looking after his father because of his impairments, but I truly believe that in the past they enjoyed hunting dazzling animals through the dense green forest back when the father could still see properly. I think at some point the son gained the father’s trust and respect after going through some rite of passage they had between themselves, but the child eventually started going out hunting alone, possibly trained by the father who knew he was losing his sight. His father trusted his son as if he was an adult. He did not fear that his son would go hunting alone, as he knew he would always return safely.

Stories and events like these convey a sense of tension and unease, like that of a contagious disease. The forest seemed to be cloudy and cold on the day the son went out hunting and didn’t return, foreshadowing a melancholic yet foreseeable future. The son meant everything to his father, and when he departed from life forever, his father was so distressed that his own imagination mangled with his reality by making him hallucinate that he was still alive and well. Just as my mother still believes that I will marry a woman and have several grandchildren with her. Trauma in someone’s life is a hand that sculpts the earth, as it ends up completely modifying one’s perspective in ways not fully understood. The father lost his son to death, and my parents lost me to my own self. Perhaps an essay will help them better understand who I am. Perhaps they one day will read this confession. My only fear is, will it be too late?

This paper was initially submitted as part of the “Advanced Spanish: From Personal to Public” course with Dr. Esther Teixeira, a WGST core faculty affiliate. The original assignment asked students to reflect on family relations through the lenses of the short story “El Hijo” (“The Son”) by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga. This essay was later published in Spanish and English in the Fall 2021 issue of eleven40seven, TCU’s Journal of the Arts. WGST would like to thank Dr. Teixeira and Rafael do Valle for sharing this powerful work with our WGST community.